Carnival Magic’s Ebola Scare Ends in Galveston

by Lark Gould

The Ebola scare extended to the cruise industry last week when it was learned that a passenger aboard the 4,000-passenger Carnival Magic had been exposed to the virus.

As events unfolded the scare proved to be just that—a scare—while travel agents commended Carnival’s handling of the incident. They also said concerns over Ebola have been overblown.

The passenger, a lab supervisor who had worked with specimens from the Liberian patient who succumbed to the virus in a Dallas hospital, was on the Magic’s seven-day Caribbean cruise that sailed Oct. 12 from Galveston.

After the government of Belize, a port call on the cruise, refused to allow the passenger to disembark and fly back to Texas, Carnival Cruise Lines said Mexican authorities delayed permission to dock in Cozumel for so long that the ship left to sail back to its home port in Galveston.

Finally, the passenger—who with her spouse had been in isolation aboard the Magic—passed a blood test and was allowed to disembark ahead of the other passengers in Galveston yesterday.

Business as usual
Carnival said it will give passengers aboard the Magic a credit of $200 per person and a discount on a future cruise.

The line also planned for the Carnival Magic to depart yesterday as scheduled on its next Caribbean sailing, said Jennifer De La Cruz, Carnival Cruise Line’s vice president of public relations.

Cancellation penalties would not be waived for sailings this week on the Magic, she added.

Carnival also said in a statement yesterday that no special cleaning requirements were requested by health authorities, given that the passenger in question was at then end of the 21-day incubation period for Ebola when the ship docked in Galveston.

However, it added that “comprehensive and aggressive cleaning and sanitizing” measures were underway ahead of the next embarkation.

More education needed
Travel agents generally had a level-headed reaction to this latest Ebola scare, although some said they’d need to educate clients more on the situation.

At the annual American Express Travel conference in Orlando last week, the key “unofficial” topic at cocktail gatherings and lunch breaks was Ebola.

“We are having to do a lot of education about this with clients,” said Jason Hedrick, an American Express Insider agent and Africa specialist with Azumano Travel in Portland, Ore.

“It’s ongoing and we are looking at options and also looking at our vendors to see how they are handling this crisis,” Hedrick said.

He said his agency has seen a significant drop off in vacations to Africa over the past few months.

Little risk
David Yeskel, a former agent with The TravelStore in Los Angeles and a cruise expert who advises from 360cruise.guru, said concerns over Ebola have been overblown.

Yeskel commended Carnival’s handling of the recent Carnival Magic incident.

“The upshot is that there was really very little risk to anyone onboard,” Yeskel said. “The fact that they missed a port call is disappointing but based on what we're currently told by the CDC, if a passenger is not symptomatic then contagion isn't an issue.

“Typically cruise passengers are not coming in from West Africa, nor have they been there in their recent travels - and the same holds for the crew,” he added.

“With the proper precautions taken via cruise line policies already in place and accurate self-reporting by passengers and crew, the risk is practically nil for an Ebola outbreak on a cruise vacation.”

The greater threat
Chuck Flagg, owner of The Flagg Agency, a Cruise Holidays franchise in Canton, Ga. agreed.

“I became aware of this situation about 5:30 this morning,” Flagg said on Friday.

“I do not have any clients sailing on Carnival Magic at this time, but as some of my clientele is from Texas and because the majority of my business comes from cruise sales, I have been monitoring the situation all day, he said.

“I will be honest; this has not drawn a great deal of my concern based on the facts as we know them and reported by the CDC in this case.”

Sandy Anderson, owner of Riverdale Travel in Coon Rapids, Minn., a Travel Leaders agency, said the flu poses a greater threat than Ebola.

“I have read some reports showing that 52,000 people die each year in the U.S. from the flu so this incident really isn’t changing anything for me at the moment,” Anderson said.

“The media is talking so people are talking, but they are not really cancelling. They’re just buying a little more insurance.”

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Travel Tends for 2019

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